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Week in review

by Benjamin Riley

Posted: Feb 05, 2016 12:39 PM

Heinrich Bunting, Map of Europa Regina, ca. 1581

Recent links of note:

Everything has gone right for the Eurosceptics. So why are they in crisis?
James Forsyth, The Spectator
Europe is in crisis. The ecumenical experiment whereby millions of migrants were accepted into unsecured borders with nary a background check has proved disastrous. The Eurozone economy is continually unsound and new tax proposals have member states upset. In short, those supporting the so-called “Brexit” could not have drawn up more favorable conditions in which to make their case for Britain leaving the Eurozone. And yet, the “out” vote trails the “in” by a not insignificant margin. This week in The Spectator, James Forsyth expounds on the ways in which the “out” camp has squandered its dream opportunity. Chief among them is the lack of a unified voice; as Forsyth puts it, “The arguments for Brexit are all there, waiting for someone persuasive to marshal them.” Pray that someone does. 

Donald Trump is the Mussolini of America with double the vulgarity
Andrew Roberts, The Telegraph
Despite the continuous reports of his demise, Donald Trump remains a competitive candidate for the Republican nomination in the 2016 presidential election. At every turn he has been declared dead: his intemperate comments surrounding John McCain; his loutish statements regarding Megyn Kelly; his second-place finish in the Iowa caucuses—each of these was heralded as the end of Trump’s peculiar sojourn. And yet he remains the leading candidate in New Hampshire. How to understand Trump? The always-entertaining Andrew Roberts offers a historical parallel: Mussolini. “Where Mussolini was hard to pin down in the political spectrum between the socialist newspaper editor and right-wing dictator, Trump has embraced universal healthcare for all, then said that it’s too expensive, then said that he was in favor of comprehensive health insurance for every American. Where Mussolini made comparisons between his Italy and the Roman Empire, Trump promises to make America great again without saying how.” 

Slash City
Matthew Hennessy, City Journal
We keep hearing from the mayor’s office that crime in New York has never been lower. According to Matthew Hennessy of City Journal, that claim is statistically true. Then what to make of the recent rash of slashing attacks on subways? They are, of course, proof that the statistics aren’t gospel: “New Yorkers . . . are savvy enough to know that statistics never tell the whole story. And they don’t mean much when someone pulls a knife on you in the subway.” Reported crime may be down, but is the city any safer when cops are afraid to do their jobs because of potential political blowback? Anyone who rides the subway knows the answer to that question.

From our pages:

The globalist legal agenda
Andrew C. McCarthy
On Justice Stepehen Breyer’s new book.


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Meet the Met

by James Panero

Posted: Feb 04, 2016 03:34 PM

Recently I visited every gallery in the main building of the Metropolitan Museum of Art—in a single day. In today's Wall Street Journal, I describe what it was like to see over four hundred galleries, and just what I discovered on this Grand Tour.

I knew it would be a challenge. There are tens of thousands of objects on display out of more than 1.5 million in the permanent collection, overseen by 2,200 employees and 17 curatorial departments. They are spread across some two million square feet of space occupying two-plus floors, and housed in over 400 galleries, period rooms, and installations—a mind-boggling array. A few weeks earlier, when I asked Thomas P. Campbell, the Met’s director, how long it would take to see every room, he said: “Two years.

Nonetheless, I was determined. So on a recent Friday, a bit past 10 a.m., I arrived at the main entrance on 82nd and Fifth Avenue, armed with a pen, a notebook and a good pair of sneakers. I bounded up the stairs and into Richard Morris Hunt’s ethereal 1902 Great Hall. I helped myself to a museum map, and made a right for Gallery 100, the beginning of the Egyptian wing and the first in the Met’s numbered sequence of galleries.

Catch the entire piece here. 

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Have We Reached Peak Trump?

by Roger Kimball | from PJ Media

Posted: Feb 03, 2016 06:14 PM

Ted Cruz confounded the pundits in Iowa. Will the same happen in New Hampshire?

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What Iowa Means

by Roger Kimball | from PJ Media

Posted: Feb 02, 2016 07:48 PM

Cruzing to victory in Iowa.

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New York's new maestro

by Eric C. Simpson

Posted: Feb 02, 2016 11:04 AM

Jaap van Zweden; photo by Marco Borggreve, courtesy IMG Artists


The New York Philharmonic is in the midst of a major facelift—they have already brought in a new Concertmaster and Chairman, and by 2021 they will have a new Music Director and more or less a new concert hall, as well.


Writing in this space last week, my good friend Jay Nordlinger praised the Philharmonic’s announcement that the Dutch conductor Jaap van Zweden will become the orchestra’s twenty-sixth music director, beginning in the 2018–19 season. No doubt, Van Zweden is a capable, even an excellent conductor. And under other circumstances he might be the ideal person to lead the orchestra into its next chapter.


Indeed, in one particular respect I think Van Zweden could be a salutary influence on the orchestra. He has largely built his reputation on his work with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, where he took an ensemble that previously attracted modest notice and refined it into one that could compete for national attention. Now, the New York Phil certainly has a reputation to trade on already, but a certain lackadaisical quality has crept into their playing in recent years. Under the right guest conductor, they can be world-beating, but on many nights they sound disinterested or even sloppy. A firm conductor like Van Zweden could help this orchestra earn back its place among America’s “Big Five.” But as Jay and I have discussed, there are some legitimate concerns to be raised over the appointment, and so we feel another viewpoint will only create a richer dialogue.


This is not an ordinary circumstance, by any means. The most obvious challenge facing Van Zweden is that in 2019, after just his first full season at the helm, the orchestra will have to vacate its Lincoln Center home for at least two years while David Geffen Hall undergoes extensive renovations. This may prove an exciting opportunity for the orchestra to reach a wider audience as it tours the outer boroughs in a variety of venues, but let’s not forget that the transition to itinerant minstrel troupe did little to help the late, lamented New York City Opera. Navigating two seasons on the road will require bold planning, and while the burden for that plan will not rest with Van Zweden alone, as the organization’s public face he will bear primary responsibility for its successful execution.


Even more worrying to me is what will become of Alan Gilbert’s most important legacy, the orchestra’s renewed commitment to new music. I’m not the world’s most rabid partisan of contemporary composing; I’m happiest, really, when listening to Beethoven, Brahms, and Schubert. Yet by committing the Philharmonic to promoting the work of the most important composers of the day, Gilbert has carved out a vital niche for an orchestra that desperately needs one in order to hold a place at a crowded table that includes Carnegie Hall and the Metropolitan Opera.


Gilbert’s most conspicuous achievement in this regard has been the establishment of the “NY Phil Biennial,” a two-week festival of contemporary works and new commissions held in venues of various sizes across New York city. Writing here at the first Biennial’s conclusion in 2014, I was thrilled to see that the festival had proven more vital than I could have imagined beforehand. At the press conference convened last Wednesday to announce Van Zweden’s appointment, one of the first questions asked was whether he planned to continue the Biennial beyond 2018, the last year that Gilbert will be present to direct it. Van Zweden seemed not to be aware of the festival, turning to Philharmonic President Matthew VanBesien for clarification before giving an evasive response. Perhaps this was just a mishap of communication—but the idea that the Philharmonic and their new leader might have reached their agreement without having discussed such a major initiative is alarming, to say the least.


We certainly needn’t cast a pall over Van Zweden’s tenure just yet: five years on, he may very well have this orchestra sounding more robust than it has in recent memory. And though not as clearly committed to new works as, say, Esa-Pekka Salonen—the conductor seen as an ideal choice for the position by many critics, myself included—Van Zweden is already on the books to conduct next season the New York premiere of a new viola concerto by Julia Adolphe, an immensely talented young American composer. Right now, more than two years away from the beginning of the Van Zweden era, whether this conductor is the man to turn the Philharmonic again into an orchestra of real international significance is anybody’s guess. But if he wants this orchestra to be a true artistic leader, building on the groundwork laid by his predecessor wouldn’t be a bad place to start.

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The Critic's Notebook for February 1, 2016

by Benjamin Riley

Posted: Feb 02, 2016 10:08 AM

Paul D’Agostino, Zeit, 2016, Oil and Acrylic on Canvas, 60” x 60”/ Image Courtesy: Life on Mars Gallery


Sign up to receive “Critic's Notebook” in your inbox every week—it only takes a few seconds and it's completely free! “Critic's Notebook” is a weekly preview of the best to read, see, and hear in New York and beyond, compiled by the editors of The New Criterion.


This week: Proust, Pound, and Paul D’Agostino.

Fiction“Proust in One Hour,” with Véronique Aubouy, at Albertine (February 3): Are you guilty of perhaps the greatest literary sin of not having read your Proust? If À la recherche du temps perdu sits on your nightstand (as it does on mine), then perhaps all that’s stopping you from cracking the volumes is a little push. There’s certainly no better place to find that push than at Fifth Avenue’s Albertine, the francophone and Francophile bookshop and cultural center. This Wednesday brings an evening with Véronique Aubouy, the author of À la lecture, who will offer her take on the French master in a single hour. NB: the talk is in French, so those with rusty language skills will also have much to gain from attending. —BR

Nonfiction: 1924: The Year That Made Hitler, by Peter Ross Range (Little, Brown, and Company): On December 31 of last year, the seventy-year copyright on Mein Kampf—held by the state of Bavaria—expired, allowing Germany's Institute for Contemporary History to publish their own edition in January. Decades later, the idea to publish the work again in Germany is still deeply controversial (though the demand for the new edition, it is said, exceeded the print run by four times). Hitler started this influential work in 1924—a year that, as Peter Ross Range claims, was pivotal in forming the terrible figure Hitler was to become. In prison following the Beer Hall Putsch, living among the other awful characters that shared his dissatisfactions, Hitler was able to develop his political ideology. The world would soon be forever changed. Look out for some thoughts on the new edition of Mein Kampf by David Pryce-Jones in a forthcoming edition of The New Criterion. —RH

Art: “Paul D'Agostino: Scriptive Formalities,” at Life on Mars Gallery (February 5–March 6; Artist Talk February 13) and Sharon Butler at Theodore: Art (Through February 14): This Friday, the artist, poet, translator, collaborator, and unofficial mascot of Bushwick, Paul D’Agostino, opens his much anticipated solo show at Life on Mars Gallery. Called “Scriptive Formalities,” the exhibition explores D’Agostino’s “shared origins in matters of language, translation, and narrative.” A new series of paintings, “Chromatic Alphabet,” represents an alphabet of colorful shapes, while “Floor Translations” continues his storytelling around anthropomorphic paint splatters found on his studio floor. Meanwhile, down the hall in the gallery building of 56 Bogart, the exhibition of Sharon Butler’s latest paintings remains on view at Theodore: Art through February 14. In her latest show, the proprietor of the art blog Two Coats of Paint, who coined the term “New Casualism,” takes a formal turn with small, lyrical abstractions of tail lights drawn from her studio view overlooking the Manhattan Bridge. —JP

Music: Maria Stuarda, by Donizetti, at the Metropolitan Opera (February 1 and 5): Sondra Radvanovsky’s stirring performance in the title role of Donizetti’s Anna Bolena was one of the highlights of the fall. On Friday the American soprano was even better, taking on the second of Donizetti's three Tudor queens in Maria Stuarda. Battling through a head cold, she gave a riveting performance, combining breathtaking vocal artistry with a fierce portrayal of the doomed Queen of Scots. Radvanovsky’s quest for the triple crown this season is a historic achievement worth witnessing, and audiences have two chances this week to catch her, with Maria Stuarda playing on the Metropolitan Opera stage on Monday and Friday. —ECS

From the archive: The epic of Ezra, by Paul Dean: On the second volume of A. David Moody’s biography of Ezra Pound.

From our latest issue: Confucian confusions, by Eric Ormsby: On the final volume of A. David Moody’s biography of Ezra Pound.


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Oxford Sees the Light

by Roger Kimball | from PJ Media

Posted: Feb 01, 2016 07:17 PM

Who's Afraid of Cecil Rhodes?

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What to Do About the Bane of Inequality, A First Step

by Roger Kimball | from PJ Media

Posted: Jan 30, 2016 08:28 AM

Are Ivy League institutions too rich?

go to PJ Media

Week in review

by Benjamin Riley

Posted: Jan 29, 2016 03:30 PM

Vincent "Buddy" Cianci, via

Recent links of note:

The Humbling of the West
Daniel Henninger, The Wall Street Journal
As if the West's recent diplomatic capitulation to Iran weren't embarassing enough, the consequences felt in Italy make clear just what sort of "deal" we've gotten. President Hassan Rouhani visits Italy, and the Capitoline Museum covers nude statuary; later, Italy's President, Matteo Renzi refuses to serve wine at a state dinner. And here we see just how sinister the "deal" was. Not only must we now trade in Iranian goods, giving immense economic support to an almost unthinkably repressive regime, but we must also subordinate ourselves to the country's nugatory notions. As Daniel Henninger says in in the Journal, now that the onslaught has begun it's hard to foresee where it will stop.

Death of a Booster
Stephen Eide, City Journal
Buddy Cianci has died, and so America has lost one of its most entertaining politicians. Legendary on the east coast for his felony convictions and personal brand of "goofy showmanship," he is not often thought of as a stellar leader. But as Stephen Eide tells it, there was something charming about Cianci's commitment to his city, practicing a "boosterism" that transcended more typical mayoral styles. Cianci was a complicated man but according to Eide, he had a simple goal: to boost the city of Providence. 

From our pages:

Who speaks for Islam?
TNC asks: who represents the real faith?


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by Jay Nordlinger

Posted: Jan 28, 2016 02:35 PM

Jaap van Zweden. Image by Hans van der Woerd, courtesy IMG Artists.

I have heard some people say, “Congrats, Jaap!” They are referring to Jaap van Zweden, who has just been named the next music director of the New York Philharmonic. I’m more inclined to say, “Congrats, Phil.”—you got Jaap. And you chose well.

This decision reaffirms the Philharmonic’s commitment to being a serious orchestra. I don’t know what Jaap van Zweden brings you “politically.” But he is an excellent and potentially great conductor. On purely musical grounds, this is a wonderful choice.

Readers may remember that I jotted a “short list” back in November: a wish-list of mine, composed of five conductors. I wanted one of these five to become the music director of the New York Phil. Jaap was among them.

So, I am personally pleased. But I have been wrong about music directors before. Sometimes pleasantly wrong: I think that a guy is a poor choice, and he turns out to be good or better.

There is not much risk in Jaap, musically. He has been very well educated. He seems to have a thorough knowledge of music and a reverence for composers. This makes his music-making honest—not flaky or overly subjective or fake. He brings an intensity to what he does. An insistence on getting it right.

This can be wearing, to an orchestra.

Does Van Zweden have any faults, as far as I can tell? Well, maybe a certain hardness, from time to time. But that is not the worst of faults, heaven knows. Ask Szell, Reiner, Rodzinski, and lots of others. Including James Levine. (Toscanini, we should save for a separate piece. I am a dissenter on Toscanini, a bit: I admire the great man—and treasure some of his recordings—but the music could be very hard, sometimes.)

Get ready to squint, because I’m going to do some quoting. Some block-quoting. Alternatively, goose up the percentage on your computer, if you know what I mean.

This is from my “New York Chronicle” of a year ago:

I had heard of Jaap van Zweden, but I had never heard him. Which is odd. As a rule, I hear musicians before they are big. And Van Zweden is big: acclaimed as one of the best conductors now working. He does not have the starriest podium in the world. Since 2008, he has been the music director of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. But he has made worldwide waves from that podium. In former times, Van Zweden was the concertmaster of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam. He assumed this position when he was eighteen. A Wunderkind, obviously, although, because Van Zweden is Dutch, we should probably find the Dutch word. (Wonderkind.)

Van Zweden guest-conducted the New York Philharmonic, in a program of Mozart and Shostakovich. The Mozart was the Sinfonia concertante, in which the soloists came from the orchestra: Sheryl Staples, violin, and Cynthia Phelps, viola. Let me describe to you the exposition of the first movement, conducted by Van Zweden: It was crisp, vivid, and engaged. It had both taste and guts. This was strong Mozart, almost Beethoven-like, the kind favored by George Szell (and, after him, his apprentice James Levine). Let me say something about the second movement, Andante, as well: It had an unforced, unrushed momentum, which is a rare and wondrous thing. Also very Mozartean. They say that the test of a real singer is Mozart. If you can sing him, you can sing anything. Mozart may be the test of a real conductor, too.

The Shostakovich was the Eighth Symphony, which began with an arresting attack—that’s a good way to begin. The intensity of the piece never flagged (except when it should have). Van Zweden is clearly a leader. When he conducts, there is “energy in the executive.” Years ago, I asked Valery Gergiev what sets conductors apart from other musicians. He said, “Leadership.” There is nothing better than leadership coupled with musicality, when it comes to conductors. Van Zweden got from the Philharmonic a classic Shostakovich sound: clean, sometimes severe, sometimes growling. This Eighth was bristling, stony, and, in the main, riveting. The New York Philharmonic played like a great orchestra. One could see what all the fuss about Van Zweden is about.

I reviewed this conductor a few months ago, too. Again, he had conducted the New York Philharmonic. The program began with Britten, the Sinfonia da Requiem, which

was conducted very, very well by Van Zweden. (Or should I say “Zweden” or “van Zweden”? This is an old, sometimes contentious debate, and I’m afraid I don’t know the maestro’s preference. Or whether he has one.)

From Jaap’s baton, the Britten was precise and intense. Obviously, this was a conductor of intelligence and command. The Sinfonia da Requiem can be lifeless, limp, as other Britten works can be, poorly performed. But definitely not on this occasion. Moreover, the score was clear even when it was cacophonous. …

Let me say something else about this intensity business. By “intense,” I of course don’t mean frenetic or loud. There can be an intense quietude, for example. At any rate, Van Zweden, in his intensity, reminded me of Mariss Jansons when he conducted the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. Or Osmo Vänskä when he started out with the Minnesota Orchestra.

Frankly, I don’t see how Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem could be better advocated. The music was correct and moving, done full justice.

Later on the program came Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.

As expected, the first movement was precise, intense, disciplined—all those Van Zwedenesque things. But it was also somewhat dry—dry of sound. This was especially true of the horns. I don’t say that this dryness was bad or wrong. I’m saying it was so.

The tempo of the second movement, Andante con moto, is hard to get right. Van Zweden got it right. He neither dawdled nor rushed. Beethoven’s phrases were sometimes more carved, or etched, than sung, but they were no worse for that. And the woodwinds were uncannily balanced. They did not stand out, as they usually do. They blended. Let me emphasize that this is very rare.

I swear, the third movement had an unusual Sorcerer’s Apprentice feel. It really did. Never mind that this was Halloween Night. The music had that unusual feel regardless.

The finale was wonderful, needless to say. A little dry. And let me register this criticism—or rather this observation: There was not a lot of spiritual glory in the finale. It was more like a slightly angry, secular hymn, if you can imagine. Did that make it wrong? No, of course not. But it was a little different.

Now to a caution: Van Zweden has the reputation of a martinet: an old-fashioned podium tyrant, or semi-tyrant, in the mold of … well, some of the conductors I mentioned earlier: Szell, Reiner, Rodzinski, Toscanini. If he behaves this way in New York, will the players stand for it? The New York Philharmonic is a notoriously hard group to boss around, or even direct. An insider once told me, “Don’t think of them as an orchestra. Think of them as Local 802.” Chances are, however, that both conductor and orchestra will find a way to make their marriage work. And music will be the beneficiary.

To say it again, the New York Philharmonic has made a wonderful choice, and a bold one. In fact, its boldness is part of its wonderfulness, in my opinion. In an age of unrelenting hype and fashion and political correctness, they have named a real musician, whose values are timeless.

Of course, he does give you an excellent name for a poster or something: “Jaap!” And perhaps New York will be full of Jaapoholics. And the Philharmonic will sound its barbaric Jaap over the roofs of the world.

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About ArmaVirumque


( AHR-mah wih-ROOM-kweh)


In the Aeneid, the Roman poet Virgil sang of "arms and a man" (Arma virumque cano). Month in and month out, The New Criterion expounds with great clarity and wit on the art, culture, and political controversies of our times. With postings of reviews, essays, links, recs, and news, Armavirumque seeks to continue this mission in accordance with the timetable of the digital age.


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March 29, 2016

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